Jun 8, 7 years ago

Why Study Spanish Abroad?

Why Study Spanish Abroad?

Who wouldn’t want to study Spanish in Barcelona or Buenos Aires? Looking past the draw of exotic destinations, it is easy to elaborate on the many benefits of learning Spanish in a Latin country. Language books, podcasts and computer programs like Rosetta Stone can hardly compare to the experience of complete immersion. Studying in a Spanish speaking country allows you to make the world your classroom. Homestays, language courses and making native friends all provide an advantage you just cannot replicate in another fashion.

Take a Spanish Class

Spanish classes have something to offer anyone, but especially for beginners and intermediate students. Enrolling in class is an excellent way to develop your language skills, understand the culture and learn about the customs of a country. The majority of large, reputable Spanish institutes offer one-on-one instruction, or small group classes. You can easily take classes by the hour too, if visiting for a short time. Many schools offer afternoon and weekend outings focused on practicing your language skills and learning about local culture. Think dance lessons, cooking classes, a trip to the market, a visit to a museum or historical landmarks.

Real World Practice

We’ve all learned something in class only to forget it in the next hour. This is especially true with regard to language accusation. Putting new vocabulary immediately into practice is without a doubt the very best way to make it ‘stick’ in your brain. You won’t remember a new word or tense if you never use it, so set goals for yourself throughout the week to practice! For example, if you’re learning the past tense, intentionally engage native speakers in conversations about the past: “What did you do last weekend?” Heading to the local market is a great place to practice. Vendors are usually very friendly and love to engage in conversation. Ask questions about the products, prices, or how to cook particular items. Strike up a conversation with your neighbor on the bus or the woman waiting with you in line. Don´t be scared. By taking a risk and inevitably making mistakes using your newly acquired language skills, locals are exponentially more likely to feel more comfortable, look past our differences and engage in conversation.

One skill that many language students overlook is listening. If you’re stuck studying from books, you’re seriously missing out on this critical and fundamental skill. Even if you can only catch a fraction of what someone is saying, don’t be discouraged. You are still making progress towards elements like pronunciation, inflection, expanding your vocabulary, and sentence structure.

Immersion and Homestays

If you really want to nail down your language skills, full-on immersion in a homestay environment is the way to go. In many cases, this can be cheaper than staying at a hotel and you can eat like a real local. As with any communal living situation, you need to tread lightly as a guest in someone else’s home but I believe these challenges are well worth the benefits of cultural exchange and accelerated learning. With a host family, you’ll learn even more practical phrases, commands, and expressions.

If you don´t like the idea of a homestay, just make rules for yourself about when you´re allowed to speak your native tongue. If you are traveling with a friend make an agreement to only speak Spanish until a certain hour in the evening. As tempting and comforting as expat or traveler hangouts can be, make an effort to avoid them if you´re serious about Spanish.

Learn the Local Dialect

Imagine all of the regional dialects of your country, the difference between British and American English. This holds true in Latin America as well and it´s something you can´t learn in books. For example, your dictionary may say beans are frijoles, but that won’t do you much good if everyone calls them porotos. Language is a living, changing thing and each region and country has its own words, expressions, jokes, and pronunciation.

With all these factors in mind, consider traveling abroad to learn Spanish as an option with many considerable benefits. Your Spanish will progress faster than you´d ever imagined.

Lead Photo: CC Image courtesy of Pedro Szekely on Flickr


Ryan is a writer, photographer, and teacher living and volunteering throughout Latin America.

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  1. October 23, 2012
    I used a book to study Portuguese before I went to Portugal last year and had no prolbems making myself understood on my trip. If you know Spanish fairly well, then it's easy to learn Portuguese but the pronunciation is very different. Portuguese as spoken in Brazil is different from learning Continental Portuguese though I think Brazilian is easier if you already speak Spanish.
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